Easy hiking in Germany
I’m sure you will agree. To visit the mountains without getting to the summit of one is like traveling to the sea without dipping as much as your toe into the water.
So when we recently visited the Harz mountains in northern Germany and had no time to climb the Brocken (aka the Blocksberg), the highest peak of the range, we decided that the Bocksberg, separated from its near-namesake by a single letter and 300 meters in height, would serve as a good stand-in.
Mainly because it was more conveniently located, no more than a bus journey and a cable-car ride away from our base in Goslar, the picturesque capital of the Harz range.
The Brocken, conversely, is a real handful for the visitor as its name implies. It means “heavy lump” in German. Even the lazy man’s way up – a narrow-gauge railway that will take you to the summit from the town of Wernigerode – will require a journey of 4 hours round-trip. (To which you have to add the time it takes for you to get to Wernigerode, of course.)
For my mother, who is 85 and for whom the mountain-climbing days are well and truly over, even this way of “conquering” the summit seemed too much of an effort.
So, the Bocksberg it was then for our three-generational traveling party of Easy Hikers.
Buses from Goslar leave hourly (line 830 to the village of Hahnenklee), and a cable car takes you the rest of the way to the top in a matter of minutes.
But to be honest: there were some drawbacks involved in that deal, too.
For one, the station on top of the mountain has all the charm of a GDR holiday camp. (Although I must emphasize that the Bocksberg, unlike the Brocken, lies on the western side of the old divide.)
For another, the Bocksberg lacks both the grandeur and the rich tradition of its higher and more high-profile neighbour.
Germany’s foremost playwright and thinker J.W. Goethe, as far as we know, never climbed up its slopes, and no witches ever gathered here for their “witches sabbath”.
You may still find it strange, however, that the little commercial activity that there is on top of the mountain appears to be conducted entirely without the help of the Harz’s – otherwise ubiquitous – sorceresses. (Witches did not habitually congregate in Goslar’s main shopping centre either, and virtually every outlet there has at least one effigy on show.)
So if you want to see a witch on top of the Bocksberg, you will have to bring your own. (Watch what you say: you are talking about my wife and my mother here.)
On the plus side: the village of Hahnenklee has a lovely lake, and after your descent from the summit, you can spend the rest of the afternoon, as we did, sipping coffee on the terraces of one of the posh hotels that line its banks – pondering questions such as: where shall we three generations meet again?